Media Release Threatened Species

Protection for sea lions welcomed by environment groups

June 28, 2018

Australian Marine Conservation Society and Humane Society International today welcomed greater protection for Australian sea lions in Western Australia.

The establishment of exclusion zones will prohibit the use of gillnets by fishing operations in areas near established sea lion colonies. Gillnets are hung in the water to catch sharks but are invisible to sea lions, which become trapped and drown in the nets.

Australian sea lions are endangered and unique to Australian waters, but their numbers continue to decline. As a result the species is likely to be upgraded from a Vulnerable to an Endangered listing under Australian environment laws.

AMCS and HSI understand that gillnet exclusion zones will be put in place around each Australian sea lion colony on the 29th June. The net free zones will range from 6-33 kilometres around each colony, offering better protection for Australian sea lions over 17,000kms2 of their range in Western Australia.

“The protection from fishing impacts offered to WA’s Australian sea lion colonies through these exclusion zones is essential to prevent the extinction of this highly vulnerable species. The McGowan Government has recognised the critical importance of protecting one of Australia’s most endangered and iconic marine animals, the Australian sea lion” said Alexia Wellbelove, Senior Program Manager at Humane Society International.

“When a species is on the brink like the Australian sea lion, it is vital that every possible action is taken to prevent the deaths of any individuals. We welcome the efforts of the WA Government and Minister Kelly to get these protected areas in place after a decade of inaction on the issue,” said Wellbelove.

“The Australian public expects that their seafood does not come at the expense of endangered ocean wildlife. Most Western Australians would want to know that their fish and chips don’t cause the deaths of our unique Australian sea lions. These closures are necessary to have any hope of recovering Australian Sea Lions from the brink of extinction” said Tooni Mahto, Marine Campaign Manager at the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the WA Government over the next three years to ensure that greater monitoring and management measures are implemented to help understand the full impact of fishing on this important species. We need to ensure that every effort is being made to help recover WA populations” said Mahto.


There are 10,000 – 12,000 Australian sea lions left in the wild. The majority occur in South Australia with only 2,000 living in the waters off Western Australia.

Australian sea lions in WA are particularly at risk, as they mostly live in small and isolated colonies. In some small colonies, the death of a single female sea lion can be detrimental to the survival of that colony.

Australian sea lions are listed as vulnerable to extinction under federal Australian law (the EPBC Act). They are currently being considered for up-listing (moving from Vulnerable to Endangered) as their population is declining in Australia.

Australian sea lion pups are born between January and June, with birth times varying at each breeding colony. Females give birth to only one pup over an 18-month period, and may not breed again for 2-3 years. This makes them very susceptible to pressures on their population.

Because Australian sea lions are a federally listed threatened species, the Federal Environment Department assesses the WA fisheries’ environmental impact on these species. The exclusion zones are required as part of a federal condition on the WA West Coast Demersal Gillnet and Demersal Longline (Interim) Managed Fishery).

The gillnet exclusion zones range from 6-33kms in diameter in a circle around each colony, to protect sea lions foraging out from where they spend time on land.

While this is not the 20km exclusion zone around each colony advocated by our organisations, it is a significant step forward for Australian sea lion conservation.

The main shark species targeted in the fishery are gummy shark (Mustelus antarcticus), dusky shark (Carcharhinus obscurus), whiskery shark (Furgaleus macki) and sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus). (


For interviews with Tooni Mahto contact AMCS Communications Manager Ingrid Neilson: 0421 972 731.

For interviews with Alexia Wellbelove contact HSI Communications Coordinator Ben Vozzo 0450 258 057.